Diversity Is a Key Ingredient for Insurance Innovation and Beyond

March 12, 2019

Given the growing recognition that the most dynamic workforce is a diverse one, attracting talent of varied backgrounds and experiences has increasingly become a goal for recruiters globally. The reason? It works.

Though anecdotal evidence has been available for decades, a series of recent studies has shown that inclusivity in hiring, developing and retaining diverse talent can create new opportunities and provide a competitive boost for organizations.

A 2015 study from global management consulting firm McKinsey looked at 366 companies from a cross section of industries and various countries and concluded that, overall, companies with greater racial, ethnic and gender diversity experienced higher earnings. Similarly, conducted by North Carolina State University in 2018 that assessed 3,000 firms in areas including recruitment, leadership, and promotion, found that companies that strove for greater diversity – and instituted policies to support their aims – enjoyed increased innovation.

Darcy Kerr, senior vice president of Human Resources for Emergent Holdings / AF Group, has seen this firsthand. In the almost 10 years she’s been with the company, she’s noticed a connection between innovation in the marketplace and the growth of diversity throughout the insurance industry.

She believes the reason is that teams comprised of individuals with varied backgrounds and life experiences produce more robust ideas. “Without diversity, you think about problems and solutions in the same way – and you won’t get a variety of solutions,” says Kerr. “Diversity is a key ingredient in innovation.”

This perspective echoes a 2016 assessment from Harvard Business Review citing studies demonstrating that thinking from diverse teams is often more forward-looking, accurate and measured. “Nonhomogeneous teams are simply smarter,” they conclude.

Building and retaining a diverse workforce isn’t easy and takes considerable effort, according to Karla Anderson, director of Diversity at Emergent Holdings / AF Group. She says companies must ask themselves challenging questions like, “What do we mean when we talk about diversity and inclusion – are we all speaking the same language? What are our greatest diversity and inclusion successes to date and where have we missed the mark?” For AF Group, the idea recognizes the great importance of inclusivity for those of all ethnic backgrounds, gender, abilities and veteran status but also encompasses recruitment of a multi-generational talent pool.

Kerr asserts that awareness around such goals must be woven into a company’s culture in order to take hold. AF Group, for example, hired Anderson in 2018 and initiated several Employee Resource Networks to support and advocate for women, African-Americans and the LBGT+ workforce, and launched a formal mentoring program. And to attract a multi-generational talent pool and retain a much more mobile talent-base, they’ve instituted more flexibility for working off-site and increased promotion of educational opportunities.

“Creating awareness is essential, but it’s also critical that each individual supports the effort to build a consistent, authentic and diverse culture,” said Al Gileczek, president of Accident Fund and CompWest – brands within the AF Group organization that are embracing D&I efforts. “As this happens, we’re generating entirely new ideas and conversations, which is inspiring for any organization.”

And the work is already producing results. Compared to the wider workforce, the company has seen a favorable 10% difference in the retention of women and 7% difference in the retention of people of color in the past 12 months. Kerr adds that AF Group will continue its commitment to diversity as it seeks to innovate the insurance industry of tomorrow.

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